“Are you threatening me?!” – Beavis as The Great Cornholio, Beavis and Butthead
Communication is a tricky thing. Since the Tower of Babel (and before, probably) men and women have been misunderstanding each other and each other’s messages in as many ways as there have been people. A couple nights ago, this reality smacked me right in the face. A friend and I had a little misunderstanding. I don’t want to go into all the gory details, but let’s just say I came very close to quoting Cool Hand Luke at one point.
“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
After resolving the whole mess, I reflected on what exactly happened and I came up with several key parts of communication. A failure on any of these levels can cause a communication breakdown. Our communication breakdown hit in an area about which I wasn’t previously cognizant.
Let’s take them in kind of a structural order of importance:
- Words – In a lot of communication, words are the basic element. What is the person saying, literally? If you cannot understand the words, you will have great difficulty communicating effectively.
- Nonverbals – Smiling, frowning, furrowing one’s brow, looking down, shifting, closing the eyes, widening the eyes, crossing the arms, flaring the nostrils, gesturing with the hands, etc., etc., etc. There are so many weapons of non-verbal communication that speak volumes in some communication. These can change the entire meaning of what is said.
- Personality – Your communication partner’s (and your) personality can play a significant role in communication. Some people are very logical and don’t often consider feelings important within communication. Pair this person with a strong feeler and it can get ugly quickly.
- Life experience – This is what tripped up my friend and me. His experience with something was basically the opposite of my experience with the same thing. Our experiences so colored our opinion and understanding of what we were discussing that our communication almost broke down entirely. Only after understanding our different experiences did we understand each other and each other’s message.
- What goes unsaid – Sometimes people can’t think of everything they want to say, are unwilling to share all of what they are thinking or feeling, or are downright devious in their communication. Understanding what is left unsaid is sometimes as important, if not moreso, as what is said.
There are probably many more obstacles to successful communication than these (Can you think of some?), but those are certainly five of the big ones. And, they are increasingly more important as our society relies more and more on written communication (email, txt, social media, etc.). And yet, we seem to be taking decreasing care with our communications. My suggestion?
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” – James 1:19
When communication breaks down, take the time to calm down, meet face to face whenever possible, and patiently work for clear understanding and peaceful resolution. Focus on common ground and be gracious at all times. Praying for wisdom, discernment, understanding, and grace helps, too.